Louisville Basketball: Terry Rozier’s time is now


Boston Celtics star point guard Kyrie Irving hasn’t played since early March, and won’t return this season. With the playoffs starting next week, this is is now Terry Rozier’s team.

Even after star forward Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the opening minutes of the 2017-18 NBA season, Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics looked to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Former Louisville basketball guard Terry Rozier had a role to play, but by no means was he expected to be a leader on this team.

Getting off to a 34-10 record, the Celtics held the #1 seed for the entirety of the first half of the season. But then a coach’s worst fear happened..injuries began to set in.

Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Shane Larkin, and all-star point guard Kyrie Irving all missed time due to a number of injuries.

But the Celtics didn’t skip a beat. In a much improved Eastern Conference that still was home to the world’s best player LeBron James, the Celtics managed to keep winning. How? Their youth.. Including former Cardinal guard, Terry Rozier.

The third year guard has been one of the biggest revelations for a Boston Celtics team who looks to be a major player in this year’s playoff race, even without Irving. Rozier has averages of 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game on the season. But with Irving out of the lineup, those numbers skyrocketed.

Of the 11 games Terry Rozier, aka ScaryTerry, started this season, his averages jumped to 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.5 steals, while shooting 42.7% from three. Those numbers are good enough to rank in the top 10 among starting NBA point guards.

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Not only has Terry Rozier been incredible on the offensive side of the ball, putting up career numbers across the board, he’s been even better on the defensive end. Rozier ranks 10th in the league in defensive rating with an astounding 100.9 rating.

There have been so many moments that stand out this season from Rozier, all of which are reasons for Brad Stevens and the Celtics to believe they still have a legitimate shot at making the NBA Finals.

First came the game-winning steal and dunk against the Indiana Pacers back in December, when Rozier climbed to get an arid pass from Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic in the final seconds which he took to the hoop for the slam.

Next came the triple-double in his first career start, becoming only the second player in NBA history to accomplish such a feat. Rozier played a near perfect game, collecting 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against the New York Knicks on National Television. If there was ever a moment to put the rest of the NBA on notice, this was it for Rozier.

This was his moment, and Rozier knew it. Telling the media afterwards,

“It just worked out perfect for me. I got to knock down some shots in the beginning of the game, hit the open man, I’m always going to get in there and rebound. Just a great night.”

Just a few nights after the triple double, it was time for Rozier to take his game to another level.  With Kyrie Irving still struggling with lingering injuries, the Celtics fed the hot hand against the Atlanta Hawks, and Rozier did his thing. Finishing the night with a career high 31 points,  he become the only other Celtics play to reach 30 points this season aside, from Kyrie Irving.

Sometimes all it takes is an opportunity for a player to show his team, opposing teams, and the rest of the NBA that they are ready for the spotlight. That’s exactly what has happened with Rozier this season.

With Boston dealing with a myriad of injuries, Rozier has been forced to carry a heavy load at the point guard position. But with his first chance at free agency looming (his rookie deal expires after next season) Rozier is forcing the Celtics to reevaluate their future plans.

It’s crazy to think, but just three years ago the Boston Celtics looked completely different. The team was coached by a young and inexperienced Brad Stevens (many still had questions on his chances of being successful in the NBA), and had a roster including washed up vets like Gerald Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Shavlik Randolph, mixed in with young and unknown commodities like Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas.

This all led to the drafting of Terry Rozier with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, a guy who most Celtics fans had never heard of, and heavy rebuild that was expected to take years. The moves made in this draft by General Manager Danny Ainge, were criticized heavily, especially the decision to draft Rozier about 10-20 spots earlier than most draft experts had projected.

“It just worked out perfect for me. I got to knock down some shots in the beginning of the game, hit the open man, I’m always going to get in there and rebound. Just a great night.”

Now with the playoffs less than a week away, and Kyrie Irving out for the remainder of the season after knee surgery, the Celtics will be forced to attach their wagon to Terry Rozier. Louisville fans know better than anyone, what

a motivated and hungry Rozier can do.

The Press Herald’s Scott Scouza talked with Celtics coach Brad Stevens last week about what Rozier has meant to the Celtics, and I don’t think there’s a better quote to summarize how special he’s been to the team this season:

"“I think it’s quite a testament to him that when things have gotten just a little bit sketchy we’ve got to throw him back in there as quickly as we can. That tells you what we think of him and how much progress he’s making. It’s not an ideal set of circumstances. But it’s a great opportunity for Terry.”"

With just one game remaining on the schedule for the Celtics, the team has locked up the two seed in the Eastern Conference. That means they’ll get a playoff series with a Milwaukee Bucks team capable of pulling off the upset due to the star power of the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokoumpo.

But don’t jump the gun expect that to happen. Behind Terry Rozier and fellow youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as well as veteran big men Al Horford and Marcus Morris, the Celtics are still as dangerous as ever.

Next: Examining Jordan Nwora's role in 2018-19

The Celtics will finish the season with John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, followed up with the Brooklyn Nets.